Dubious Health Miracle: Did Vodka Save Elephants in Russia?

A recent report from the Associated Press contends that elephants were saved from the harsh Siberian cold by drinking gallons of vodka—but don’t go lining your winter coats with an emergency flask just yet.

Here’s the story: Two elephants, 45 and 48 years old, were evacuated from a trailer outside of Novosibirsk after the vehicle caught fire. During the winter, Novosibirsk’s average temperature is said to be about -4 degrees Fahrenheit, so the animals faced some serious cold.

The solution? “The Komsomolskaya Pravda daily reported that trainer Leonid Labo had the animals… drink 10 liters (2.6 gallons) of vodka diluted in warm water — and a veterinarian said later that only the tips of their ears were frostbitten,” reported the AP. “Novosibisk zoo director Rostislav Shilo told the daily that the vodka saved the animals from frostbite and pneumonia, without harming or even intoxicating them.”

Here’s the thing: Alcohol can definitely make you feel warmer, but it lowers core body temperature. To hear the Mythbusters explain it: “A nip or two actually causes your blood vessels to dilate, moving warm blood closer to the surface of your skin, making you feel warmer temporarily. At the same time, however, those same veins pumping blood closer to the skin’s surface cause you to lose core body heat—the heat you need to survive, especially if you’re stuck in a snowdrift. This effect could lead to fatal hypothermia.”

So, maybe these elephants just got lucky, but at least they have a good story to tell next time they knock one back.

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